Box with Lid and Finial Top


Box with Lid and Finial Top

Philip Greenwood turns a decorative lidded box with a finial top

This article includes a simple box that could be a project in itself, however I’ve decided to make a finial to fit on the lid. This makes the box more of a show piece due to the length of the finial, which could be broken if used every day. This is something you have to take into account when you design or make an item. I discuss a client’s requirements and then make sure that the finished design is fit for the purpose that it will be used for. This can be difficult but I would not want to supply an item that is not suitable for purpose. This box is made from three pieces of timber – matching timber for the box, and a contrasting timber for the finial. I prefer a light timber for the box with a dark timber for the finial. The timber for the finial needs to be close and straight grain for maximum strength; grain running at an angle would be more vulnerable to break if rough handled, even if it made it through the turning process. The turning of the box is straightforward so long as you plan ahead, think carefully about how you are going to hold the parts and how you will finish off any chucking points used to finish the item off. Go through each process in your mind or on paper and make sure you will not run into problems. If you do foresee problems, change the process to an alternative method – better to do this than to waste a nice piece of timber due to not thinking the process through prior to turning the item. The box is finished with carnauba wax, which gives a more durable finish than beeswax.

Tools required
10mm bowl gouge
25mm French curve scraper
3mm parting tool
20mm skew
10mm spindle gouge with a fingernail profile
Timber requirements
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) for box 140 x 60mm
Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) for finial 110 x 20mm sq

Dimensions of project

1: This is a way to hold a blank if you don’t want to have a screw or screw holes in your blank. I am holding this between centres; I have a steb centre held in the chuck and a revolving steb in the tailstock

2: Turn the waste away with the bowl gouge. Once most of this is removed, use the parting tool and skew chisel to cut the dovetail. Once completed you can turn the blank around to cut the other side. It will line up on the centre points of the steb centres

3: Place in the chuck and start to part down the centre with the parting tool to create the joint spigot, about two parting tool widths. Now start to part down at the side of the spigot, make a small clearance cut to stop the tool becoming jammed. Once you have parted halfway through, stop the lathe. Now use a small hand saw to finish separating the two halves. If you continued with the parting tool so deep the tool would become more uncontrollable to use

4: Part in where the base lip will fit, this is around 5mm deep. Now start to remove the waste for inside the top part with a bowl gouge, leaving some extra in the centre. Try for an even curve on the inside

5: As you can see, a lot of the waste has been removed now. Shape the centre part, this will be a feature and give a little more depth for the hole that will be drilled in the top for the finial

6: Use a round or French curve scraper to finish the inside; remember to use scrapers in a trailing mode, making sure that the handle is slightly higher than the tool tip. This will avoid a catch and give a better finish to reduce sanding later

7: Use the skew to finish the recess where the spigot or lip of the base will fit into, and also to add detail to the centre part as well. Hold the skew flat on the toolrest and in a horizontal mode to stop this catching. Now sand and seal the inside of the base to a finish standard

8: Take the top out of the chuck and hold the base in the chuck. Start to remove the waste from the centre with the bowl gouge. Don’t forget to leave the spigot on the edge. This again is a gentle curve

9: Now we need to cut the spigot to size so the lid will fit, this needs to be a tight fit to enable the lid to be finished. See below for how I fit lids. Don’t be afraid to keep stopping the lathe and trying the fit

How to fit a lid
My lids are fitted so that if you lift the box by the lid the bottom part will hold for a few seconds before it drops off. I plan the job so I cut the recess first; this needs to be parallel to make fitting the lid easier, be careful when sanding not to round over the front edge. When it comes to turning the spigot, I only turn a 2mm step wide on the front edge when the fit is close and I regularly stop the lathe to test the fit. Take very small cuts, don’t take too much off at once or the fit will be slack. Once it fits on the small step, I turn the full width. If I make a mistake when turning the small step I only waste 2mm not the full width. Again, sand carefully with a fine grade or the fit will be loose.

Joints on boxes
This sounds so simple and it can be by following a few simple rules when fitting a lid. The most common question is what sort of fit, tight or loose. It the fit is so tight that it is hard to separate the top and bottom, it will be impractical for everyday use. I tend to place the spigot on the bottom part and the recess on the lid, because if this is used and you place contents in the bottom part that has the recess, small items could become broken when the spigot slides into the recess. This is my preference. The grain on the joint line rarely lines up due to the timber that has been used for the joint and parting cut. I chamfer both edges so the mismatch grain is not so noticeable. This is a three-joint design that can be used on boxes.


10: Once it’s fitted tightly to the base, the lid is ready for shaping. The tailstock is in place to give more security while the main turning is completed. Start shaping the lid curve with the bowl gouge working from the centre to the outside. The centre part will be completed once the tailstock is removed

11: After removing the tailstock you can finish the top. Take light cuts only, remember you are holding on a friction fit. Once you have the shape use a scraper to refine the surface, this should leave a surface with no lumps or bumps. Place a little step in the centre for detail

12: I am using a Jacobs chuck in the tailstock with an 8mm drill bit to drill a hole for the finial. Drill this hole 5mm deep, place a piece of tape around the drill bit to give a depth stop if needed. If you go too deep you will drill through the lid. Sand and seal the lid

13: Remove the lid so you can finish the inside of the base. Look for a smooth curve from the rim into the centre of the base. Once you have completed this with the bowl gouge, move to the scraper to finish off. As before sand and seal the inside of the base

14: Mount a piece of scrap MDF in the chuck, in this case it is held with a screw chuck. Cut a recess that the base rim will fit into, this needs to be a tight fit. Do wear dust protection when turning MDF products

15: Hold the base in the MDF. Use the tailstock for additional support. Start to shape the outside of the base, turn down the MDF backing plate to give more room to finish the joint area. Look for a nice curve on the underside of the base; leave the spigot for the foot

16: In this photo you can see the shaving coming off the bowl gouge just below the tip of the tool. This gives a shear cut to give a better surface finish

17: Remove the tailstock to give you access to the foot area. Recess the foot area to give you a rim for the box to stand. Don’t go too deep or you will go through the base. Once you have finished with the gouge use the scraper if needed

18: Use the long point of the skew chisel to add a little detail on the inside of the foot. This shows you care about the underside as much as the top. Sand through all the grades of abrasives; keep stopping the lathe to check all the marks have been removed, then seal the surface

19: I have prepared the finial as in panel 3. Use tailstock support at first to turn up and start the shaping on the end of the finial. You can use a piece of white card behind the work to show the profile more. Take small cuts with the spindle gouge; remember that the end 3mm will be removed to remove the hole from the revolving centre

20: Remove the tailstock to finish the end of the finial. Once the end is completed move to the stem, take this down in stages using small cuts as this will help stop vibrations when turning small diameters that are long. Don’t go back to the very end or the finial may break

21: Once you have completed the stem you can now turn the bead at the end that will fit against the lid. Make sure you have bevel contact with the spindle gouge; you don’t want to make a mistake now. Sand this to a fine finish – you may need to go up to 1,200 grade abrasive to give you a good surface – then seal the finial

22: Turn the spigot to match the hole in the top of the lid, use callipers to check this measurement. Now part the finial from the waste in the chuck. I use a three-part mop system to polish all the parts prior to gluing the finial in the top of the lid

23: The finished box should look something like this

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